An excellent year for the Eta Aquariid meteor shower

Without Moon to muss, take a look to see what could be one of the best meteor showers of the year.

Where to see Eta Aquariid meteors

The radiant Eta Aquariid is displayed here from latitude 30 ° north (Houston, Cairo, Delhi, Shanghai) 90 minutes before sunrise. Further north, the radiant is lower when the sky begins to light up. The members of the shower can appear anywhere in the sky, but all trace their paths back to the radiant.
Sky and telescope

If you have not paid much attention to the Eta Aquariid shower because of your early hour, it is time to commit. These quick spitballs from the constellation Aquarius can be the last good meteor show for the rest of the year.

You can blame the moon. The richest rains, the Perseids of August and the Gémnides of December, will receive a strong blow from the light of the moon this year. In both cases, the Moon will be almost full and almost overnight. Even the October Orionids will only limp with one last quarter of Luna.

A brilliant Eta Aquariid accelerates under Corona Australis on May 5, 2014.
Frankie Lucena

From the tropical and southern latitudes, Eta Aquariid rain is a solid hitter with a peak of 40 meteors per hour. For sky watchers in mid-northern latitudes, that number will be closer to 10-20 because the radiant only rises to 15 ° -25 ° before the start of morning twilight. The maximum occurs on Sunday morning, May 5, in the first hours before dawn begins. That means you'll have to be outside looking around 3 to 4:30 a.m. To make sure you do not lose that window, click here to see the time of sunrise and back approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes to calculate the start of the morning. twilight. Then back one more hour to allow time to see the shower under a dark sky.

Several years ago I had a wonderful experience with the Eta Aquariids. Meteorites appeared at a steady pace until morning twilight, they crossed the sky at incredible speed and left pleasant trains. In fact, the current produces fast meteors with speeds of around 67 km / s, on par with its sister rain, the Orionids and the zippy Leonids. While I only saw a dozen at the most, each had character.

Eta Aquariids are dribs and monotonous of Halley's Comet. The perturbations of the planets and the Sun have caused the particles to spread out in a ribbon centered in Halley's orbit. The Earth travels through the debris in the outbound section of the comet's orbit every May and the inbound section every October.
Bob King

The Orionids and Eta Aquariids are two sides of the same coin, since both are splinters of Halley's comet. Earth crosses the comet's path twice a year, first in May, when meteors flow from near the Eta Aquarii star, and again in late October, when Halley's dust becomes the Orionids. On May 5, the comet is a blip of magnitude 26 to 35 a.u. (5.2 billion kilometers) of Earth, located 6 ° west of the head of Hydra, the water snake. Reach the aphelion on December 9, 2023. Until he returns in 2061, we will have these two showers to remind us and still hides in the dark.

Given the low altitude of the radiant, stay alert to the Earth's shepherds long before the radiant rises. These are slower moving meteors that shoot up from below the horizon, skimming the atmosphere and burning for many seconds before vanishing. The best time to see them is during the afternoon and very early in the morning before the peak.

Very out there!

This diagram shows the location of Halley's comet and its orbit at the Eta Aquariid rain peak this year.
JPL / Horizons

To better enjoy the shower, use this interactive Light Pollution Map to find the darkest possible location outside the city. Carry a reclining chair (or lay on your back), a warm blanket and a pair of eyes. The locations with open views are the best. As with all meteor showers, it is not necessary to look at the radiant to capture an Eta Aquariid. The perspective makes the meteors of that direction appear short. Tilt your chair to the south or northeast and you will see the "shooting stars" from the side, where they show longer and more dramatic trails. Speaking of which, these fast meteors are known to produce persistent trains, durable veins of ionized air that shine for a second or two after the meteoroid has vaporized.

If the weather looks bad on Sunday, the shower will show a good activity from May 4 to 6, so it will take more than one morning to spy a burning Halley-mote. While you are away, you will also enjoy spectacular views of the Milky Way of summer before Mosquitoes arrive and see Venus appear low in the southeast at dawn.

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